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Ivory phrenological head on a circular wooden stand, Europe, 1801-1900

Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. In the early 1800s, phrenology became popular with large numbers of ordinary people who were interested in self-improvement. However, it quickly became controversial in medical circles. Disagreements arose between phrenologists over what parts of the brain determined which characteristics. On this carved ivory model, the eyes represent language and the area between them represents individuality. The key for the model is printed on the ivory base.

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Glossary: phrenology

The study of the bumps on the outside of the skull in order to determine a person's character. It was based on the mistaken theory that the skull becomes modified according to the size of different parts of the brain.

Glossary: phrenological head

A representation of a human head, on which the phrenological faculties are illustrated. Phrenologists believed that one could tell personality traits by examining the bumps of the skull. The practice is now regarded as a pseudo-science.